During the 19th and early 20th centuries, Oklahoma pioneers decorated their homes for the Christmas holidays with natural materials that looked attractive at this time of year.
On Christmas Day, they visited neighbors and joined together to perform and sing traditional Christmas music.
For years, visitors have enjoyed pioneer Christmas decorations and celebrations at historic sites operated by the Oklahoma Historical Society.
This year, they will be available at the Sod House Museum southeast of Aline on State Highway 8, the Murrell Home at Park Hill three miles south of Tahlequah, the Cherokee Strip Museum in Perry, Fort Gibson Historic Site in Fort Gibson and the Oklahoma Territorial Museum in Guthrie.
“Many people have the mistaken impression that Oklahoma history consists only of dates, events and places,” said Bob Blackburn, executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society. “In reality, museums and historic sites across the state add texture to Oklahoma history with personal stories reflecting both folk traditions and the cultural baggage brought to the state by successive waves of immigrant families.”
Sod House Museum
Visitors can enjoy a true pioneer Christmas at the Sod House Museum with music provided by The Silver Strings Band from 1 to 3 p.m. Dec. 8 during the Christmas Open House, said Sod House Museum Director Renee Trindle. Admission will be free.
“A pioneer Christmas tree often was decorated with bits of ribbon, yarn, berries, popcorn or paper strings and homemade decorations,” Trindle said. “Some homemade decorations were figures or dolls made of straw or strips of fabric. Cookie-dough ornaments and gingerbread men also were popular. We decorated a tree just like this for the Sod House Christmas decorations.”
The two-room Sod House was built in 1894 by Marshall McCully, using bricks made of thick buffalo grass. He lived there until 1909.
The Historical Society took over the house and formed the Sod House Museum in 1963.
The Sod House Quilters have completed a Christmas quilt and will hold a silent auction during the open house. They also will provide cookies and apple cider.
The Murrell Home was built in 1845 by George and Minerva Murrell after moving to Indian Territory with the Cherokees on the Trail of Tears in 1838-39. George, who was born in Lynchburg, Va., moved to Athens, Tenn. In 1834, he married Minerva Ross, daughter of Lewis and Fannie Ross. Lewis was the brother of John Ross, principal chief of the Cherokee Nation from 1828 to 1866.
“The Murrell Home will be decorated for its 12th annual Christmas Open House from 1 to 5 p.m. on Dec. 9,” said David Fowler, director of the Murrell Home. “The halls will be decked in 1800s Christmas fashions, and music will fill the air. The open house will be free and open to the public, but donations will be appreciated.
The Friends of the Murrell Home will sponsor a reception with refreshments.
The Cherokee Strip Museum will again take part in the Perry Christmas Tour of Homes from 2 to 4:30 p.m. Dec. 9, said Peggy Haxton, director of the museum.
The tour generates money to provide Christmas decorations for Perry's town square.
“The museum will be reminiscent of the way our ancestors decorated before electric lights,” Haxton said. “Decorations will include many handmade items, including scherenschnitte, greenery, popcorn and apples. Scherenschnitte is a German word for scissor cuts, an art of paper cutting design. Visitors to the museum will be served hot cider and coffee along with homemade cookies.”
Fort Gibson Historic Site will present the Candle Light Tour every 15 minutes from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Dec. 8.
The Candle Light Tour has been a “cornerstone of the holiday season in northeastern Oklahoma,” David Fowler said.
“The theme for this year will be Christmas 1848,” said Fowler. “Visitors will experience a frontier Christmas as men and women of the fort return home from war.” Admission will be $8, and reservations are required.
The Oklahoma Territorial Museum will participate in Guthrie's annual Victorian Walk presented by the Guthrie Chamber of Commerce on Dec. 8 and 15.
The Victorian Walk will feature live performances, Candle Light Trolley Tours, and evening walks that include live window scenes celebrating life in territorial Guthrie, said Nathan Turner of the Territorial Museum. Carolers, peanut vendors and lights will illuminate the National Historic District.
These dramatic events will bring to life the way Christmas was celebrated by pioneers who came to Indian Territory and Oklahoma Territory and developed the state of Oklahoma in 1907.
Max Nichols writes a monthly column for the Oklahoma Historical Society.